Rediscovering Video Games
One of the things I've been happiest about, for 2017 / 2018, is that I've rediscovered my love for video games.
It used to be such a big part of my life, and then not, just as suddenly.
In the past year or so, I've been more actively on the lookout for games that would amuse me or make me happy. So far, it's been:
Overcooked, for people with real life friends and / or who remember life before online multiplayers. Some days, I'm tired of shouting into my headset at teenage boys in Russia to please shoot that enemy in front of us, or to heal me. Mostly though, I just have such fond memories of 2P games that are so rare these days we call them “couch co-ops”. Overcooked is a fabulous couch co-op. It has very little to do with cooking games like Diner Dash. Instead, it emphasizes teamwork, communication, and makes sure everyone ends up having a good time. Up to 4P. 2P is perfect, 4P is chaotic — but fun chaos, I think, is the point of this game.
Persona 5 — I haven't been one for JRPG (Japanese RPGs) traditionally. Something about the art or the story just hasn't been for me. But in Persona 5, it was refreshing to see a story unfold in modern day Tokyo in a manner that draws you into the landscape. No details are lost in illustrating this ultra modern Japanese city, and the inner lives of the teenager you play in it. Ultimately, while fun and never losing the momentum of fun, the story can be too linear and the details sometimes old-fashioned. Since things occur from the perspective of the Japanese teenage boy you play, there are allusions to soft misogyny that make you go, hang on — did they really say that? But may be the strict gender norms provide authenticity. I'm just no longer used to such blatant “girls do this, boys are like that” ideas in any media, anymore.
Cities: Skylines — If you grew up in the 90s, like I did, SimCity2000 was probably the defining game of your childhood. I spent many hours building my cities, preparing for disasters; they were beautiful moments that I still think of, very fondly. Lately, though, the SimCity series have been a let down. All modern reboots of that franchise have been somewhat lacklustre. The only SimCity game I still actively play is an emulator version of SimCity2000. Nothing surpasses it. Except, perhaps, Cities: Skylines. It's a different beast borne of the same roots. To start with, the Finnish developers of Cities: Skylines did well first on their traffic sim, Cities in Motion. The level of detail they've been able to build into Cities: Skylines, as a result of that prior work, is astounding. Real life city and traffic planners have been hoooked on this game, providing many mods and a lot of great real life advice to wannabe planners like us who play games like these. The public transit aspect is phenomenal; the level of detail — being able to zoom down into individual Skylines citizens, find out their names, follow them as they go about their day; receive live commentary of your work as the mayor / Dear Leader in the in-game Twitter, just like you would as a real life politician — all of this builds layers upon layers into this game. Before long, you become obsessed with making sure every detail of your city is going the way you planned. The one shortcoming of the game, however, is that the UX isn't super intuitive when it comes to what went wrong. Sometimes, you don't even know something's going wrong, until it's too late. I wish it would be more prompt in letting you know that something is going down a slippery slope, or something else is quite literally going to shit. It nags you to death when it happens, but it doesn't warn you or give you many opportunities to pre-empt them, before it happens. Which can really take away from the momentum of the game.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus — This was the game that made my partner go, am I ever going to see you again? Alternate history plots usually fascinate me, but can also go so wrong (such as, the terrible Amazon Prime Video riff on “The Man In The High Castle”, ugh). Here, even if you've never played the legacy Wolfenstein games (or even 2014's excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order) — you can dive right in and BJ Blazkowicz your way through the Nazis. Mow them all down, machines and all; kill Hitler himself if you want to (note: it's instant-death, but oh is it sweet and happy fuzzy). The cut scenes, though numerous, layer on many additional moments in-between. The presence of PoC folks in the cutscenes, even if maybe not super historically accurate, is much-needed in these times. Yes, I care about the role feisty black women play in resistance movements in alterate history timelines. I love the tech, the attention to detail with the weapons. I love the writing and great dialogue, even if cheesy at times. I loved — and feared — being introduced to a city that seemed so normal and so like current day America, yet so utterly craven in its Nazi roots: the chapters set in Roswell were bone-chilling. Just have a look and see how hate becomes normalized. My time spent in the in-game Papa Joe's was devastating. The hiding, the stealth, the normalcy of it all (before you have to bash a Nazi in the face). This game is a superb shooter, and an even better story-teller.
XCOM 2 — various expansion packs. I'm a huge fan of the XCOM franchise. The past year has been great for XCOM fans. The handful of expansion packs have extended XCOM 2 in ways that make the base game feel fresh and new, almost like a brand new game. Yet, they're so complex every time you play them that I'm still playing through the recent expansion packs. The base game was a little basic, but the expansion packs add depth and many more hours of intense strategizing. As always, great for gamers who love to wait before pouncing.